Written by on November 24, 2009

Michael Chabon: Manhood for Amateurs

39206346.JPGThis is Michael Chabon’s first book of nonfiction. In subjects ranging from his bond with his brother to his search for a “murse” (male purse) to why he loves Jose Canseco, Chabon gives us a detailed glimpse into his sometimes-deep, sometimes-shallow, but always engaging mind. I have absolutely no interest in any aspect of baseball, but I found myself skimming the Canseco essay anyway, a victim of what I’ve come to think of as New Yorker Syndrome: the writing is so good that I find myself reading it regardless of the subject matter.

The tone of the essays in this book varies wildly: in some he goes deep into the details of a passion of his — say, Legos — but in michael-chabon-1008-lg.jpgothers, he’s dealing in emotional bonds and the connection he feels with his parents, now that he has children of his own. The essays on his wife, writer Ayelet Waldman, are particularly touching. Here’s a sample:

Not very long afterward, in an ongoing act of surrender to the world beyond my window, with no possibility of knowing what joy or disaster might result, I married her. And since that afternoon in Berkeley, California, standing along the deepest seam of the Hayward Fault — no, since our first date — this woman has dragged nudged, coaxed, led, stirred, embroiled, mocked, seduced, finagled, or carried me into every last instance of delight or sorrow, every debacle, every success, every brilliant call, and every terrible mistake, that I have known or made. I’m grateful for that, because if it were not for her, I would never go anywhere, never see anything, never meet anyone. It’s too much bother. It’s dangerous, hard work, or expensive. I lost my ticket. I kind of have a headache. They don’t speak English there, it’s too far away, they’re closed for the day, they’re full, they said we can’t, it’s too much bother with children along.

She will have none of that. She is quick, mercurial, intemperate. She has a big mouth, a rash heart, a generous nature (always a liability, in my view), and if my way is always to opt out, to sit in the window seat with a book in my lap, pressing my face against the pane, then her great weakness, indistinguishable from her great strength, is a fatal, manic aptitude for saying yes. She gets herself, and us, and me, into trouble: into noble causes and silly disputes, into pregnancies and terminations, into journeys and strange hotel beds and awkward situations, into putting my money where my mouth is and my name on fund-raising pitch letters for the things that I believe in but otherwise, I don’t know, haven’t gotten around to yet. She is the curse and the wolfman charm in my blood, calling me to shed my flannel shirt and my pressed pants with their sensible belt and lope on all fours into the forest.

author photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

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